My little auto adventure

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Vince Leong handing me the keys to the Volkswagen GTI

Vince Leong handing me the keys to the Volkswagen GTI

I guess it’s official: I’m looking for a new car.

I’m taking my time this time, though. Eight years ago, I was forced to part with my faithful, 16-year old Corolla when a kid suddenly pulled out of his lane as I was driving down Nimitz and just about totaled my car. Suddenly, I had to buy a new car, and fast.

In the end, it was a good opportunity to get a car that I’d always wanted. I had always had adventurous visions of me driving a Mini Cooper, sort of like all those good-looking people in “The Italian Job.” I bought my little red Mini not just to bring that vision to life, but probably to jazz up my self-image, too. The odd thing was, my Mini and I never really bonded the way I did with my Corolla. It was like desperately wanting to keep dating that good-looking bad boy, hoping that one day everything would click. It never did for us.

Recently, Vince Leong of Honolulu VW had me test drive the 2015 GTI, which had just come off the dock. That kind of accelerated my quest for a new car, so I’ll be blogging about my test drive experiences and welcome your input on what I might get.

My parameters: I’d love to stay in a budget of around $20,000, although I know that may not be realistic. I need air conditioning and a radio. I want it to be reliable, with not too many (or expensive) problems. And I’d like it to be reasonably attractive, not one of those things that look like an alien space ship. I had wanted to go back to my reliable Corolla line, but Toyotas are all egg-shaped now. I understand that makes them aerodynamically better, but I can’t see a thing while sitting in that egg.

I need a boxy shape like this for best visibility.

I need a boxy shape like this for best visibility.

Car lovers know the Volkswagon GTI as a good-quality, “great driving” car. The exterior is a little too young-looking for me, and I’d probably have to explain myself driving it, but the interior felt comfortable and kind of luxurious (at least, compared to the cars I drive), not to mention the ride was smooth. It’s easy to drive, too — I don’t know how to explain it, but I felt like I didn’t have to think the whole time I was driving. Unlike my Mini, the GTI is extremely comfortable for many passengers, and the back seat has several little features (carseat hook, extra armrest, and more) that my riders seemed to enjoy.

The GTI also is known for having a lot of power. To really test this, I drove it to the top of Alewa Heights. The road goes gradually upward, but as you get near the top, the street suddenly angles up sharply. I usually have to get a running start if I want to make it up that last part of the hill; with the GTI, I didn’t need to do anything … just drive.

Compared to my Mini, the GTI is a bit longer (just about everything is) and it has ample trunk space, so it’s like driving a station wagon. The gas mileage on these newer cars is listed at 25 city, 34 highway, but I drove 160 miles that weekend and didn’t need to fill up gas — not even half, I think. Usually a couple of trips out to Pearlridge will require a fill up at the end with my Mini.

For those of you that know me, I can get lost walking, but the new GTI has a touch-screen GPS that guides you by voice as well as an interactive map, so I tested that going to Kailua (which I can never navigate). There was no problem and I didn’t get lost.

Other features I didn’t get to test: the speakerphone Bluetooth is a great feature, but I rarely make or take calls so it was (surprisingly) hard for me to find someone to use it with. All my guy friends told me to try the cruise control, but I couldn’t figure out if I was hitting the right button or not.

The car was fully loaded and the MSRP is about $32,000. Despite it being out of my budget range, I was ready to buy the car at the end of the test drive weekend. No kidding! But the car nuts in my life — like Fred Paine at Pearlridge — reminded me not to jump at the first one to come along and to try some others before making a final decision on my next long-term relationship. I’m not going to lie: It was extremely hard to jump back into my old Mini after that.

What do you think? If not a Volkswagen, what would you recommend? And what should I test drive next?

 

GTI best

To get a test drive to see if my assessment was correct, hit up Vince Leong at Honolulu VW!

40 comments
ColinJunktweet
ColinJunktweet

I've read many of the comments and agree with most of the points listed. Although it's a generalization, it's somewhat accepted that European cars are going to be a little more expensive to repair and may require repairs more frequently. If you are looking for something other than a sedan, your choices will be the various hatchbacks on the market. This selection criteria excludes the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, two of the heavy hitters in the $20,000 category.

You could look at the Nissan Versa note in all it's rent a car glory, but I don't think it's the best choice. Another choice although a little larger is the Mazda 3. This is a highly regarded compact but beware of the option packages. It is possible to get this car well into the high 20s with cavalier choices. There are also domestic choices such as the Ford Fiesta which are attractive but aging vehicles. Like Mazda, they choose to offer a lot of option packages which can push the price up rather quickly. Also, the My Ford Touch Telematics system has drawn criticism in some circles.

This brings me to what we are currently leaning towards. The 2015 Honda Fit. Because we will choose a manual transmission, we have no choice but to go with the EX trim level. Assuming you're looking at an automatic, you could choose the EX-L and still be around $20,000. in this case the "L" denotes leather interior. The Fit is a tidy 160 inches long, yet it yields a whopping 94 ft.³ of interior space. As the newest car of all I've mentioned, it will also be the safest. Backup cameras are standard and the front end was designed to withstand the new NHTSA small offset crash test.

Oh, and the incidences of people stealing the badges has become somewhat passé. We've been driving these cars for 20 years and have never lost a badge.

JoeyDaCat
JoeyDaCat

My two cents - Had a Toyota : Minimal problems, easy and relatively inexpensive to fix.  Would buy another one but the egg-shape thing bugs me too.  Had an Audi A4 : nice car, fun to drive, expensive to fix and limited number of mechanics that I felt comfortable (trusted) taking the car to.  My lesson learned - European = nice car but you keep paying even after you pay for the car.  Have an Infiniti G35 : Again, nice car but had its maintenance issues too.  10 years old and still going.  Easier to maintain than European but don't think can fit in your budget range.  Have a Subaru Impreza : So far no maintenance/repair issues, reasonably priced, supposed to last as long as Toyotas, easy and relatively inexpensive to maintain.  Will definitely consider when start looking again.  I think M makes an excellent point about maintenance/repair.  I know someone who kept his Prius for almost 10 years and had no problems with the battery.  He just bought another one.

Big question to consider - how long are you intending to keep it?  3 or 4 years and maybe VW or other European is ok since might be able to get maintenance covered for that period. Subaru doesn't have that but I think Toyota does.  Much to think about.  Good luck.

SisLum
SisLum

I'm an Infiniti girl. Go see Debbie and Keoni at King Infiniti in Mapunapuna. Try the new Q series. You will be spoiled rotten and never want to leave the brand.

hiloprgal
hiloprgal

I adore my Nissan Juke! It's fun to drive, has a sassy look and isn't too big. I want a Leaf but I don't have access to charging stations at home or work so it makes me worried I'll run out of juice. Hopefully one day soon, but I'll keep loving my Juke until then :-)

Sea glass
Sea glass

There's a reason why there are so many Toyotas on the road. Why is there a need to switch brands? Toyota is a great product with excellent resale value which means it's made very well. Stay away from European brands if want durability and reliability and good value. Any doubts, check Kelley Blue Book. If you can't charge your car at your residence don't get a Leaf. A Prius charges as you drive with 50 mpg or more, it won't give you mileage anxiety and don't believe what you hear about having to change the hybrid battery. Yes it's nice to be taller when driving but it's not going to get you better handling or get you to your destination any sooner. Plus taller cars like SUV's generally have poorer fuel economy, although I must say you will match a nice RAV4. Good luck and don't pay a dealer markup.

cadewet
cadewet

The GTI looks great,and I like VW. Have you looked at the BMW 1 series or the Audi A3. Just an idea :)

Thumper52
Thumper52

Melissa, I read your blog so fast before I responded. I love my Acura TSX because it is very reliable and comfortable. My husband tells me that it is too big for me which I agree with him now. To late because I loved it when I bought it not realizing that it was too big. My husband is driving my Acura RSX which was a little to sporty for me. Plus, the Acura's are out of your price range which you are willing to spend. I agree with you totally to take your time shopping for a new car. Before my Acura RSX, I also drove a Acura Integra for like 15 years and it had really great mileage. Think I only had like 80 thousand miles on my car and my husband keeps it really clean. Good luck with your search!

M
M

Hello Melissa,

I work in the auto industry and besides the things you are looking for, and since I fix my own cars, I look beyond what most people think and look for. I look at the engine, how is it going to be if I need to work on it? Easy or hard? Parts? Will the part be easy to get? Will the parts be expensive? Warranty on the engine? Transmission? How's the service department? Recalls? Has there been a lot of recalls in past years? Dependable? Being stalled is the worst feeling. Accessories, do I need it or do I want it? The more accessories the more things can go wrong. Where's the oil filter? Is it easy to get to? Safety? What's the history of past years? Use? What will you be using it for mostly? I Standup Paddle so a car is not going to work for me. Know any mechanics? Get their opinions, most mechanics I know drives Toyota's,Honda's or Nissan's . That should tell you something. My brother has owned cars other than asian built and I fixed his cars way more than I do on minds. (I have a Nissan, Acura, Honda and Toyota).

Electric cars are great but when you need to replace the batteries down the road, it's going to cost you. Might be better off just buying a new car.

turkfontaine
turkfontaine

if you will test drive a few of the smaller sized cross-over SUVs, like a Range Rover Evoque (over 40k) all the way down to the Jeep Patriot (well under 20k) you might find something you like. one thing i'm betting you will like is the experience of sitting up higher than in a standard sedan. Inez always thought she wanted a Saab or a Peugeot Wagon. there wasn't a spectrum of differently sized SUVs so we went to the most car like big SUV available at the time. one drive in a Range Rover Classic, LWB and she never wanted to go closer to the ground again. we kept that car just under 20 years. 

daboogah1
daboogah1

we have had over 5 VW vehicles for company vehicles and lets just say we drive nothing but Toyota's and Honda's for cow mobiles now.  They all break like clock work.  same issues, same challenges and all were bought in different years. The japanese cars are more reliable, friendlier on budget and overall a better experience.  Being said, I say go with a NISSAN Leaf.  quick little cars, free parking in meter stalls, and even more better since airport parking is free.  The lease deals are amazing on it!!

Nanigurl
Nanigurl

For the $20,000, you don't have a lot of options, but I'd vote for the Honda Civic.  It'll last a long time, they're pretty sporty looking, within your price range, and very dependable.  Looking forward to reading about your test drives!

BixbyHo
BixbyHo

Vince Leong I don't have to tell you but she is a fellow McKinley grad, so you better treat her right!

dkMOMUS
dkMOMUS

Reading others' comments in reply to your FB post makes me cringe. People seem to think universally that dealers are jerks and rip-off artists and that car buying is a gladiator sport. That might be true for dealer vehicles being sold by spokesrats, but it's NEVER been my experience when I purchase. :-/

Myong
Myong

Go find a sugar daddy and have him buy a car for you. Problem solved.

Melissa808
Melissa808 moderator

@ColinJunktweet Thanks! Very good information also. I did drive a Nissan Versa as a rental car in Kona recently and was like "HMMMMM...."


I gotta go with automatic, not manual. OK I will keep all of this in mind as I shop. 

Melissa808
Melissa808 moderator

@JoeyDaCat ps I tend to keep my cars a long time. The Mini is 8 years; my last car, which is my first car, was 16.

Melissa808
Melissa808 moderator

@JoeyDaCat That is very good information, and a good reminder on the Subaru! I considered it once, but never test drove it. Maybe it's time.....

Melissa808
Melissa808 moderator

@SisLum Do you know.....I've never driven an Infiniti? I'm pretty sheltered.

Melissa808
Melissa808 moderator

@hiloprgal OK, I FINALLY googled this Juke.....I had no idea that's what you drove now! I'll stay open to it. I know, quite a few people suggested the Leaf now and it sounds great, but I don't have access to charging stations every day, either. This will be a long process.

Melissa808
Melissa808 moderator

@Sea glass Thanks for the feedback! The biggest drawback now to not getting a Toyota (as mentioned above) is that they are egg-shaped now, so I have a hard time with visibility, both front and back. Otherwise I'd totally go back to it.

Melissa808
Melissa808 moderator

@Thumper52 Thank you! Yeah, I know what you mean, I don't feel comfortable in cars that are too big. I feel like I have a harder time, actually.

Melissa808
Melissa808 moderator

@M all good thoughts, thanks! I don't have Acura/Honda on my radar because of all the thefts but I should look into it, no? I can't drive a Toyota because they are egg-shaped now and I can't see anything anymore when I am sitting in one. :(


I definitely don't need a lot of accessories! Hmmmm ok good thoughts.

Melissa808
Melissa808 moderator

@turkfontaine I used to drive my dad's truck when I was at UH and it WAS kind of cool to be sitting high. 

Melissa808
Melissa808 moderator

@daboogah1 You're the second person to say Nissan Leaf. My client, Fred Paine, is a car nut and has owned 50 cars in his lifetime....and is now surprised how much he loves his Leaf. Question, though: do you think I'd do OK with just charging it at malls all the time? My condo doesn't have a place to plug in. 


I definitely have the Leaf on my test drive list!

Melissa808
Melissa808 moderator

@Nanigurl PS you are right. the smaller, the better. I feel like I have less control over a car that is too big.

Melissa808
Melissa808 moderator

@Nanigurl I actually had not thought about a Honda because of all the news reports of the young punks stealing the "H" and stuff, but that's a good idea. Yeah, I know I'm limiting myself on the budget but I also don't need a lot — just AC and a radio. Then again, what factory cars only come with AC & a radio nowadays? I'm sure I'll have to fudge the budget but I hope not by too much!

Melissa808
Melissa808 moderator

@BixbyHo I better check my "MHS" list on Twitter! I'm pretty sure Vince is on it!

Melissa808
Melissa808 moderator

@dkMOMUS This is true! I guess it's the same for realtors....I did the math when I was working at a certain real estate company and only 5% were awful, but they more than made up for the other 95%. Funny how the extreme 5% can affect a whole industry!

Melissa808
Melissa808 moderator

@Myong ahahahahaaaaaaa finding a sugar daddy might be harder!

JoeyDaCat
JoeyDaCat

@Melissa808 I hear that.  Kept my cars for 15 yrs (Toyota), 12 yrs (audi) and 10 yrs (and still going - infiniti g35).  Gotta get my $'s worth!

Thumper52
Thumper52

@Melissa808 @Thumper52


Yeah, they don't have anything smaller. The RSX was great for me, but after having back problems, the shocks were too much for me. I had to get a car with a little smother ride.


Actually my husband just told me that maybe I should get a Mini Cooper? Isn't that too funny! I love my Acura and the car has to be Black! Lol

Nanigurl
Nanigurl

@Melissa808 Smaller is definitely better, not only because of the better gas mileage, but also for the parking! Seems like parking spaces these days keep getting smaller and smaller!

Vince808
Vince808

@Melissa808 @dkMOMUS We make car buying a pleasurable experience at Honolulu Volkswagen.  There's a reason why we're the #1 Hawaii VW dealer in sales, customer satisfaction and #1 on Yelp :) 

Melissa808
Melissa808 moderator

@Nanigurl UGH. I immediately thought of that Chinatown parking lot that has the tiny spaces.

Melissa808
Melissa808 moderator

@Vince808 @dkMOMUS Vince, you were in a meeting when I returned the car but the guys at the desk were super helpful & informative, and didn't sugar coat their stuff. They made me feel very confident in their knowledge. :)

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